Are This Season’s Toys Less Toxic?

Happily, the news from this season’s toy shelves is YES – at least a qualified YES. The number of recalls is down 80% since the toy crisis of 2007, not because there is less testing, but because the products coming in from China are more consciously and carefully made. The Mattels and Hasbros and Sesame Streets are proving that we can get a safer product from China if that’s what we require. When the marketplace screamed toxic foul regulators, our businessmen listened and our children benefited.

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Happily, the news from this season’s toy shelves is YES – at least a qualified YES. The number of recalls is down 80% since the toy crisis of 2007, not because there is less testing, but because the products coming in from China are more consciously and carefully made. The Mattels and Hasbros and Sesame Streets are proving that we can get a safer product from China if that’s what we require. When the marketplace screamed toxic foul regulators, our businessmen listened and our children benefited. 

However, things are not perfect. While last week’s Zhu Zhu hamster toy scare was a false alarm, test results just released by the Ecology Center found 1 of 5 toys still have elevated levels of lead, cadmium, mercury or other heavy metals.  Also, there are still soft plastic PVC toys like rubber ducky or dolly’s arm that can leach plasticizers into a busy young mouth. The 1-year-old set finds that soft plastic irresistible.

The reality is that the marketplace is too large and diverse for regulators and consumer watchdogs to catch all the toxics circulating through the toy web. 

So here are my top 5 tips for giving less toxic toys this holiday season:

  1. No toy jewelry to young kids. Below the age of 2, kids put everything in their mouths and will swallow what can fit down the hatch. Even up to age 5, there is a tendency to mouth objects when bored. Toy necklaces, pendants, beads and rings can all contain heavy metals to cheapen the product and make it feel weightier or more valuable. However, these metals can leach out if sucked on or swallowed.  If children are still actively mouthing, do not give them toy jewelry and don’t let them play with an older sibling’s jewelry.
  2. Choose hard plastic or wooden toys over soft plastic. Teething rings, bath toys and even doll parts do not need to be made out of PVC.
  3. Buy American-made toys – while Chinese products have improved, US toy companies have been vigilant for many years and more than ever deserve our support. American made toys are featured on such websites as http://www.toysmadeinamerica.com/.
  4. Avoid cosmetic kits for the very young – application and removal of nail polish, perfume, facial products and sprays often involves phthalates, fragrances and solvents than can lead to an allergic or toxic reaction. These kits have liquids that kids might end up ingesting or painting across whole body parts leading to unnecessary chemical exposure.
  5. Be aware of last year’s toys – the good news this year begs the question about last years purchases which Junior has now developed a thing for.  You may want to gently replace last year’s questionable toys with newer versions that may be safer. 

Blog written by Gary Ginsberg, PhD
Dr. Ginsberg is a public health toxicologist whose research focuses on the unique susceptibilities of children to environmental...